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Tips On Choosing Fruit Trees
There are hundreds of different fruits to choose from, and we offer most of our trees on a choice of rootstocks.  Given all of this variety, how do you choose?  Some people prefer to just jump right in and choose what strikes their fancy, and for folks with some gardening experience this works just fine.  Others prefer a more methodical approach.  Start by doing your research locally – have a look around and see what’s already growing in your area.  Talk to your neighbors & county agricultural extension to find out what does well in your area.  Pay attention to your site, the patterns of sun, wind & frosts.  Look for the microclimates, cold spots, hot spots and sheltered areas.   

Find out what condition has the most limiting effect on fruit growing in your area, and keep this in mind when choosing.  In northern regions it may be extreme winter cold, while some southern areas do not get enough chill for certain fruits such as cherries & filberts.  In some areas Spring frosts may damage blossoms and reduce fruit set certain years.  Once you’ve determined your limiting factor(s) you can make choices accordingly.  Choose hardy varieties for extreme cold, low chill varieties for southern climates, disease resistant varieties for cool, damp climates etc.  Make the most of your site and climate.  Extended rain & fog in coastal areas contribute to disease problems in tree fruit, but is ideal for berries.  Choose plums and early to mid-season disease resistant apples for coastal areas, avoid the late season fruit that may not get enough time to ripen.


Here's what you need to consider when buying fruit  trees, click on the links or scroll down the page for details:


Rootstock Selection Determines Tree Size and Spacing

The rootstock is the lower portion of the tree that you don’t see.  Rootstock selection and pruning determine the size of a tree.  If you have limited space, choose a dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock and keep it well pruned.  If you want a tree to hang a hammock on, or to use as windbreak or shade, go for a semi-standard or standard.  The diagram below shows the relative sizes of different rootstocks. 








This chart shows the approximate size of trees on different rootstocks.

           Bud 9 (apple)                           M7 (apple)                 M111 (apple)               Standard
           Pajam (apple)                           Pumiselect (prunus)    OHxF 97 (pear)            Mazzard (cherry)
                                                           Citation (prunus)         Colt (cherry)          
                                                           OHxF333 (pear)

Climate Zones
There are two aspects to consider for climate – what is the general climate of your area, and what are the specific characteristics of your piece of property.  Climate zones describe the macroclimate or general characteristics of your area.  By learning your climate zone you can gain a lot of useful information such as average minimum temperature, weather patterns and number of growing days.  The specific characteristics of your property are your microclimates , which you can familiarize yourself with through observation.  Microclimates are determined by soil, slope, aspect, wind and water.  If you have a small backyard plot you may not have many microclimates, but if you have a parcel with some slope and differing vegetation you’re likely to have several.  Once you identify your microclimates you can use them to your advantage when planting fruit trees

Wherever possible, we classify varieties using two climate zone systems– the USDA climate zones & the Sunset Gardening climate zones. 
Most gardeners are familiar with the USDA zones, they account only for the minimum average annual temperature so they are used to rate a plant’s cold-hardiness (see adjacent Chart).  However, there is more to growing conditions than minimum annual temperatures.  Sunset Gardening has developed a different system of climate zones that is far more informative, taking into account factors such as frost-free days, humidity, prevailing winds, effects of ocean, elevation & regional weather patterns.  Until relatively recently Sunset zones were available only for the western US.  Now the entire country has been classified using this system, and we highly recommend utilizing it.  

What Sunset Zone Am I In? -  - You can identify your Sunset zone,20633,845218,00.html.  You can also consult the climate zone maps in the Sunset Gardening Book  for your region. 


Use the following chart to determine your USDA climate zone:                                                         


Average Annual Minimum Temperature


Below –50° F


-50° to -40° F


-40° to -30° F


-30° to –20° F


-20° to -10° F


-10° to 0° F


0° to 10° F


10° to 20° F


20° to 30° F

ZONE 10  

30° to 40° F

You can find out your annual minimum average temperature by consulting a knowledgeable neighbor, your county agricultural extension, or the USDA climate zone map at  

Don’t be afraid to experiment – Keep in mind that a climate zone is the map, and your site the actual territory.  Most written advice (this catalogue included) will be conservative by necessity.   Climate zones do not account for your slope, aspect & local weather, warm spots and frost pockets.  These all add up to your local microclimate, which may vary from what a climate zone tells you.  Use the climate zone as a guideline, not an absolute.   Use the information in this catalogue to make educated choices and avoid varieties that are obviously not suited to your climate.  Don’t be afraid to experiment and try something new.  Ultimately the only way to know how a fruit will produce on a specific site is to plant it there.     


Microclimates - Making the Most of Your Location
Microclimates are small pockets of climate variations that differ from the surrounding climate.   By identifying and using microclimates you can grow fruit not normally recommended for your climate zone.  Pay attention to the way the sun travels across your property throughout the season.  Look for cold spots and hot spots.  A maximum-minimum thermometer placed at different locations will tell you a lot about your microclimates.   Here are a few other things to look for.   

Slope – Bear in mind that cold air moves like water, so in spring and fall a valley floor will usually be significantly colder than a slope.  In fact, some slopes are called banana belts, because they remain frost-free much longer than valley floors, which may be subjected to hard frosts.  If you are in a warm climate and are concerned about not having enough chill, plant in low spots when possible.  If you are in a cold climate and are concerned about frost damage, make the best use of slopes when available.  

Aspect - A south-facing slope is, of course, much warmer than a north-facing slope.  Western slopes receive the hotter, more intense afternoon sunshine, while eastern slopes receive the less intense morning sun.  A south facing wall is a good place to plant a tree that needs extra heat in order to ripen.  If the wall has an overhang, it will also provide some frost protection.   

Thermal mass – Water and stone will absorb heat during the day and re-radiate it at night.  A stone or brick wall can be an ideal place for ripening a late fruit crop.  Translucent jugs of water placed in a greenhouse or around fruit trees will re-radiate heat at night.  A small pond will serve as a heat sink in the summer and fall, and a cold sink in spring and winter.  Watering before an anticipated frost will increase re-radiated heat – the wet soil will absorb more heat than dry soil during the day, and release more at night.  

Wind – Strong wind can desiccate plants, damage fruit and decrease air temperatures.  Wind protection can be especially important in coastal or desert regions.   The best windbreak is one that slows wind down rather than stopping it.  Hedges, vines, lattice fences and screens allow some wind to pass through without creating turbulence.


Most fruit trees require pollination to produce fruit.  Some trees are capable of pollinating themselves (self-fertile), others require pollen from another tree (self-sterile).  As a rule of thumb, pollenizers should be no more than 50 feet apart from one another.  The chart below outlines the general requirements for the fruits available from Sandy Bar Nursery.  See the variety descriptions for more specific information.

  This chart shows the pollination requirements of different kinds of trees.

A note on apple & pear pollination:  Some reference sources list certain apple varieties as self-fertile or partially self-fertile.  The research we have done indicates that weather conditions during bloom plays a large factor.  For instance, Bartlett pear can be self fertile if warm temperatures prevail during bloom (a common occurrence in Central California where pears are grown commercially).  We have opted to be more conservative and list both apples and pears as requiring a pollenizer for two reasons – 1)  We are give advice to people across a wide range of climatic conditions and  2) It’s frustrating to plant a tree and wait a few years only to find that you are not getting any fruit due to lack of a pollenizer.  However, in the descriptions we do note when a variety is considered by some as self-fertile by using the following phrase:  Partially self-fertile, but produces better with a pollinator.”  This way you can decide for yourself whether or not to plant a pollinizer for these varieties. 

Pollination Charts for Sandy Bar Nursery Varieties:






Chilling Requirements

Temperate fruit trees must pass through some cold in order to know that winter is over and it is time to bloom.  Chill is the number of hours below 45°F from November to mid February.  Temperate fruits require anywhere from 100 to 1400 chilling hours. Gauging cumulative chill and matching varieties for your area is more of an educated guess than an exact science, as low temperatures vary considerably within a climate zone and from year to year.  (We once had the experience of informing customers that, according to the climate zone maps, they did not have enough chill hours for cherries.  They called us back after an old timer showed them a planting of trees in their area that bore beautiful cherries.  Local knowledge trumps interpretive data).  Chilling requirement is a concern for USDA zones 9B and 10, predominantly southern and coastal regions where chilling hours average 100-600 chilling hours per year.  If you are within this area, take note of the chilling requirements listed for fruits and choose accordingly.   Most of Northern California receives between 800 – 1500 chilling hours a year, which is sufficient for most fruits.  Persimmons, almonds, olives, berries, pomegranates & chestnuts all have low chilling requirements.   Low chill varieties are available for apples, pears, apricots, nectarines, peaches, and plums.  Filberts need lots of chill (800 hours) and should be avoided in low chill areas.  Use the map to see if you are in a low chill area and estimate your amount of winter chill.  The “At a Glance” tables will tell you the chilling requirements of each fruit.

Click here to see a larger version of the chill map. 
Click on the graphic for a larger image

For more details about chilling and to help make sense of just how many days of low temperatures you may need for a given number of chill hours, see the UCDavis California Backyard Orchard website.

How Many Trees Should I Plant?

The number of trees you plant will depend, of course, on how much fruit your family consumes.  The “At a Glance” tables in the catalogue and on the website tell you how much fruit you can expect to harvest from each variety on different rootstocks.  Don’t be intimidated by the quantities.  You can spread your harvest throughout the season so that your fruit does not ripen all at once (see below). Some of the fruit will be culls and a lot of weight is lost when processing fruits.   If you intend to preserve your fruit by juicing, canning or drying then you will want to plan accordingly.  Consider the following processing conversions:

                        20 LB of fresh fruit yields approximately:

  • 1 ½ to 2 LB dried fruit

  • 1 gallon of juice

  • About 5 quarts of fruit preserves


Ripening Times – Spread Your Harvest Through the Year

By choosing varieties that ripen over a long period of time you can enjoy fresh fruit for most of the year, especially here in the west.  Some varieties are good keepers and will provide you with fresh fruit well into the winter.  And don’t forget canning, drying and freezing.  Most of the varieties in this catalogue are presented in order of ripening, from early to late.  Use this order and the chart below to plan for fresh fruit throughout the year.   

This chart shows the relative ripening dates for different fruit and nut varieties.

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